Devastation seen from space of Chile's deadliest forest fire on record

More than 71,000 acres have burned since Feb. 4. More than 120 people have been killed, according to the U.N.

VALPARAÍSO, Chile – Only satellite images can show the sheer scope of the destruction caused by wildfires across coastal Chile.

So far, fires have burned more than 71,000 acres since Feb. 4, according to the U.N.'s ReliefWeb. Almost 30,000 of those are in the coastal resort city of Viña del Mar, crowded with visitors during a summer heat wave. So far this season, the country has lost 128,892 acres to fire, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.


Satellite images show the massive burn scar across the Valparaíso area. Maxar used infrared imaging and shaded healthy vegetation in red while the burned areas appear black and gray. Both cities and wildland areas burned.

UN: 'Chile’s deadliest forest fire on record'

The United Nations reported that 122 people have died, and 200 others are still missing. Only 32 bodies have been identified. The Associated Press lists 131 deaths and more than 300 still missing. Over 40,000 people have lost their homes or have been impacted by the fire, with 31,000 of them in Viña del Mar.


Eastern areas of Viña del Mar have been devastated, and fires continue to burn.

"During the week there were different outbreaks of forest fires, but currently the ones with the greatest intensity and extreme characteristics are the fires that began on January 31 in the La Estrella commune, O'Higgins Region, which is still active with more than 2,500 hectares," reports the IFRC.

"In addition, in the Valparaíso Region on February 2, different fires started in the communes of Villa Alemana, Quilpué and Viña del Mar, which have destroyed homes and critical infrastructure such as communications antennas, road closures, among others," the IRFC continued. "In the Maule Region there are active outbreaks, the most intense are those found in the communes of Pencahue and Curepto with nearly 1,000 hectares burned."


The U.N. stated: "this disaster is believed to be Chile's deadliest forest fire on record."

"It burned like someone was throwing gasoline on the houses," a survivor who only managed to escape with a small backpack told Reuters. "I don't understand what happened ... There was a lot of wind, a lot of wind and big balls of fire that would fly by."

In Viña del Mar another resident told Reuters that many of her neighbors died. She was forced to leave her cat and dog behind, fleeing with only sandals and the clothes she was wearing.

Drought and heat wave partially to blame for fires

One report blames the extreme fire weather on El Niño, La Niña and climate change. Intensity and areas burned grew steadily in the past decade.

"A string of fierce fires broke out in Chile in the austral summer 2023, just six years after the record-breaking 2017 fire season. Favored by extreme weather conditions, fire activity has dramatically risen in recent years in this Andean country," reports a 2024 study out of the University of Santiago. "A total of 1.7 million ha. burned during the last decade, tripling figures of the prior decade. Six of the seven most destructive fire seasons on record occurred since 2014."

The United Nations reports that 122 people have died and 200 others are still missing. Only 32 bodies have been identified so far. The AP lists 131 deaths and more than 300 still missing. Over 40,000 people have lost their homes or been impacted by the fire with 31,000 of them in Viña del Mar.